Their name says it all – Masters At Work. For over a decade, "Little Louie” Vega and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez have shepherded dance music down new paths with their inventive production style and imaginative feel for different musical forms. The two native New Yorkers have amassed an overwhelming body of work in that time, one that includes hundreds of original productions, remixes and side projects, redefining the way we think of music in clubs. Vega and Gonzalez defiantly mix everything they can find – house, hip-hop, funk, disco, Latin, African and jazz – into a universal groove. And in doing so, MAW has become a cultural mélange unto itself, emblematic of the multicultural society in which we live.
Our Time Is Coming is the group's third official album, second under the MAW moniker, and first for Tommy Boy Records. Comprised of wonderful new compositions and a handful of their most popular singles from recent years, it is indicative of the ambitiously eclectic MAW sound: a vibrant dance groove culled from a mesh of Latin rhythms, jazz and soul. Vega and Gonzalez composed, produced and arranged the album's ten songs, using crafty studio work and live instrumentation and help from some regular collaborators (India, Roy Ayers) and a few special guests (Patti Austin, James Ingram, Stephanie Mills).
The Beginnings "Little Louie” Vega and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez officially started their union as Masters At Work in 1990. Vega, a prodigious DJ around
Vega was born in the
Gonzalez was born in
As the Masters At Work sound became more pervasive in clubs, they became more sought after by artists and labels, eventually remixing Bjork, Deee-Lite, Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, Donna Summer, Janet Jackson, Daft Punk, Incognito, Brand New Heavies, Stephanie Mills and many, many more. Sometimes a MAW remix is literally a re-mixing of the original, like adding a bass line and some minimal keys (Daft Punk's "Around the World") Other times, their remixes are total re-imaginations of the songs, as was the case with Saint Etienne's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart".
MAW also began producing for their own coterie of artists, like Barbara Tucker and salsa singer
Nuyorican Soul MAW alter-ego Nuyorican Soul was born in 1993, a play on their heritage (Puerto Rican), residence (
Released in 1997, the self-titled album was a mix of exemplary salsa, jazz and soul musicians (Roy Ayers, Eddie Palmieri, Jocelyn Brown). There was a discernable Latin jazz influence on songs like "Runaway" (a Salsoul Orchestra cover), a classic soul feel on the Rotary Connection gem "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun," and a nod to hip-hop with a cover of Bob James' oft-sampled classic "Nautilus (Mawtilus)". Yet while the album's cover songs gave a nod to their influences, nobody could have imagined the timelessness of the Nuyorican sound.
Our Time Is Coming Our Time Is Coming combines six new compositions with four popular MAW singles from recent years, all co-written, produced, arranged and mixed by Vega and Gonzalez, who recruited a number of friends and influences to add to the sessions.
The title track boasts the inimitable influence of Roy Ayers on vibes and background vocals. "Like A Butterfly (You Send Me)," the opening selection, features the lovely Patti Austin on vocals with lyrics co-written by Blaze and background vocals arranged by Austin. The legendary James Ingram appears on "Lean On Me." Elsewhere on Our Time Is Coming, the diversity of Vega and Gonzalez rears its head with the Latin-jazz-influenced "Pienso En Ti," featuring guitarist and vocalist Luis Salinas, and the deep-house funk of Billie’s "Every Now And Then." And it's nearly impossible to throw on the Soca-influenced "Work," (featuring Puppah Nas-T with vocals by Denise) and casually bob your head – this is a full-body experience.
It was a dream of Vega and Gonzalez’s to record with Afrobeat king Fela Kuti. Unfortunately, their hopes were dashed when Fela passed away in August 1997. So instead, “MAW Expensive (A Tribute To Fela)” reworks Fela’s signature "Expensive Shit," maintaining its dedicated tribal flavor.
Our Time Is Coming is Masters At Work at their finest, a wonderful accomplishment especially given the scope of Masters At Work's robust discography. It's rare to see artists push their creative impulses so consistently and with such acceptance, and even more rare to see it sustained for so long. But as this album reveals, Vega and Gonzalez continue to do so with unequaled ability. If anything, the album's title is too appropriate, for as much as the artists have done in the last eleven years, there is certainly more that lies ahead.